A vape dispenser. (CTNewsjunkie / photo)

A Connecticut legislative panel on public health pushed forward Wednesday with a plan to ban the sale of flavored vaping products in an effort to reduce nicotine use by minors. 

The concept, which lawmakers have debated for the last two years without passing, would prohibit the sale of any vaping flavor aside from tobacco and hike penalties for stores caught selling nicotine products to youths.

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Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Westport Democrat who co-chairs the Public Health Committee, said the legislation would address the “thorny” issue of flavored vapor products, which the legislature set aside in 2019 when it raised the age required to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. 

“To be clear, we are directly addressing the issue of flavors,” Steinberg, a longtime supporter of the bill, said. “We are increasing penalties for those that do not behave well.”

But the ban has been a tough sell among some in the legislature and Wednesday’s 19 to 12 vote found members of the committee split on the issue. Several lawmakers voiced concern that banning flavored vaping products could have the unintended consequence of leading nicotine consumers to more harmful combustible products like cigarettes. 

Rep. Jamie Foster, D-Ellington, pointed to testimony from a Yale professor, Dr. Abigail Friedman, suggesting the policy could increase tobacco use by minors and reduce smoking cessation by adults. 

“It would be easier and significantly more comfortable to me to align with the advocates who want children to not have access to tobacco,” Foster said. “It would be easier if we could just say ‘E-cigarettes are evil’ and ban them. I wish we could. I wish the science supported that but it doesn’t.”

In weighing the issue, Steinberg said the public health panel had received “enough data to choke a horse,” including compelling testimony on both sides of the argument. He said the legislature had to determine the best answer “on balance” for Connecticut.

“I’m convinced this is going to interdict at the beginning for a lot of young people who might be attracted to the prospect — the ‘coolness’ of e-cigarettes and may therefore now not go down that pathway to addiction,” Steinberg said. “We are all hopeful this decision will have the intended effect and not other consequences.” 

Several Republicans also voiced opposition to the bill, including Rep. Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell, who said she wished the panel had opted to change the bill in order to accommodate concerns raised during the public hearing. Steinberg was adamant he intended to advance the policy without substantive changes. 

“We’re open to conversations but as I’ve stated, it’s our intent to ban vaping flavors,” Steinberg said.